In 2014, Buffalo Bills starting quarterback EJ Manuel will cost the team $2.02 million against their cap. Thanks to a lawsuit from a disgruntled fan, the Bills will pay roughly $1 million more than that just for their phone bill.
A U.S. District judge has issued a preliminary approval to a $3 million settlement in a 2012 class-action lawsuit filed against the team by Jerry Wojcik, a Bills fan who claimed the franchise violated the agreement of its opt-in texting service.
According to Stephen T. Watson of The Buffalo News, the suit claims the Bills promised no more than five text messages would be disseminated to fans each week. When Wojcik received 13 texts over a two-week span, he filed suit on behalf of the nearly 40,000 fans who subscribed to the service.
The settlement, which will be paid out in gift cards to the team store or the team's website, was approved in a Tampa Bay, Fla., court last week. Up to $2.5 million in vouchers will go to the estimated 39,750 fans who signed up for the service. The remaining funds will be distributed to Wojcik's attorneys ($562,500) and the plaintiff himself ($5,000).
Bills spokesman Scott Berchtold issued a statement on behalf of the team Tuesday, indicating it still felt it was within the spirit of the program:
The Buffalo Bills have reached a settlement in this matter which we believe is in the best interest of our organization and our fans. The purpose of the Bills’ voluntary, opt-in text messaging program was to provide our fans with information they requested about the team. The organization maintains that our text messaging program was in compliance with the law.
The Bills have since eliminated the text service, which was designed to provide breaking news and other stories to fans. Wojcik's suit claims he received six text messages the first week with the service and seven the second—three more than the allotted agreement states over a two-week span—and says the Bills violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
As per the settlement agreement, fans will receive debit-card vouchers for $57.50, $65 or $75, which can be redeemed at the team store or online at the team's website. A hearing has been set up for Aug. 20 for the settlement to reach final approval. Those who signed up for the service will then be contacted by mail and via phone to claim their prize.
While many have deplored Wojcik for the frivolousness of the suit, criticized his finicky, letter-of-the-law interpretation and hounded him about wasting taxpayer money, others may feel the opposite.
In the same way that Stella Liebeck once crusaded against McDonald's for those who did not know hot coffee was, indeed, hot, Mr. Wojcik is a pioneer against professional sports organizations who do not realize three-to-five is not, indeed, five-to-seven.
Anyway, considering how Bills fans have faithfully supported the franchise across 14 straight seasons of missing the playoffs, maybe they deserve a win for once. At the very least we should see plenty more EJ Manuel jerseys in Ralph Wilson Stadium next season.
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